by Frances Underhill
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, contemporary conservative Iran has taken a hardline against female musicians, and in particular the solo female voice. Female singers are only permitted to sing publically when accompanying a male soloist as background vocalists, or when singing in a group of all-female singers, for an all-female audience. Some religious texts suggest that the female voice has a seductive quality when it reaches certain octaves, which may then make music pleasurable. As a result, the female voice from the past is being eradicated and albums by legendary singers such as Googoosh are now illegal in Tehran and can only be bought on the black market – the female soloist prohibition appears insurmountable.
‘No Land’s Song’ is a feature documentary film by Ayat Najafi which follows his sister, the young Iranian composer Sara Najafi on an important mission. Her goal is to organise an official public concert in Tehran with other female solo singers for an audience of both women and men; inspired by legendary Iranian singer, Qamar, who performed a famous public concert in the 1920s. Sara courageously plans a concert of Iranian and French female soloists in an attempt to rebuild shattered cultural bridges, revive the female voice and refresh cultural memory. The concert is, of course, forbidden and the mission seems impossible. For two-and-a-half years, the director, Ayat Najafi follows the preparations between Tehran and Paris that are always touch and go. What goes too far? What is still possible? Sara’s regular meetings with the Ministry of Culture shed light on the system’s logic and arbitrariness, though officials there can only be heard and not seen. Can intercultural solidarity and the revolutionary power of music triumph?
‘No Land’s Song’ will be premiering at the Human Rights Film Festival on 20 March 2015 as part of the Arts Versus Oppression strand of the festival, which demonstrates the restorative and revolutionary power of music and storytelling. Ayat Najafi will be on Skype for a Q&A session following festival screenings. The screening at the Ritzy Picturehouse will be followed with an evening of Persian music, Upstairs at the Ritzy. The Light of Music orchestra, fronted by a female vocalist, will play songs about spring, hope and freedom on traditional Iranian instruments including the Tar, Kamanche, Daf and Kouzeh.
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival returns to London from 18-27 March 2015 and features a thought-provoking programme of 16 award-winning documentary and feature films from across the globe. This year, four documentaries from the Middle East and North Africa will be screened, demonstrating the effects when creativity and politics coincide, through the stories of some unforgettable characters. In addition to ‘No Land’s Song’, interesting screenings include ‘The Wanted 18’, ‘Rosewater’ and ‘The Dream of Shahrazad’.